Karagatan Patrol detects apparent commercial fishing in oil spill affected areas - Oceana Philippines
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Karagatan Patrol detects apparent commercial fishing in oil spill affected areas

Oceana calls for full implementation of vessel monitoring to ensure traceability, safety of fish catch amidst an oil spill

Press Release Date: May 8, 2023

Full transparency in the operations of commercial fishing vessels will ensure that fish and seafood caught in Philippine waters are not illegally caught, safe to consume, and in the long run can save lives and livelihoods amidst the impacts of an oil spill.

International advocacy organization Oceana reiterates its appeal to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to lift the suspension of the implementation of Fisheries Administrative Order 266  and urged the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the National Telecommunications Commission to immediately implement the Vessel Monitoring Measures (VMM) and Electronic Reporting System (ERS) to effectively detect commercial fishing vessels operating in oil spill affected areas and trace their fish catch that may be potentially unsafe for human consumption.

“The BFAR and other agencies are mandated to monitor all seafood caught from oil spill contaminated waters. The NTC has to issue the Maritime Mobile Service Identity Number to all commercial fishing vessels and comply with its duty according to FAO 266. We are in an emergency situation and the health and safety of the source of food of the people should be of utmost priority,” said Oceana Vice President Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos.

Boat detection data from Karagatan Patrol using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) showed a total of 276 vessels in the Cuyo West Pass waters near the municipalities of Linapacan-Cuyo-Taytay in Northern Palawan from March 5 to 18. This area was previously under closed season but that has been lifted since February 1.

The MT Princess Empress was transporting 800,000 liters of industrial fuel when it sank in waters off Oriental Mindoro on February 28, 2023. It was found three weeks later with the help of a Japanese remotely operated underwater vehicle but with no way yet to plug the leaks, bunker fuel from the vessel continues to devastate the marine environment with oil slicks reaching Palawan and Verde Island Passage.

BFAR said that its tests analyses have so far been inconclusive as to food safety. Bunker fuel contains a variety of toxic contaminants that can linger in fish tissue and render seafood unsafe for human consumption. Speaking at a press conference recently organized by Greenpeace, Oceana, and the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), environmental science professor from Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology and campus director of MSU-Bataraza, Palawan Dr. Hernando Bacosa said that “an oil spill can really alter, can really destroy this complicated food web, destroy marine life, degrade shore amenities, harm economic activities, and impact human welfare.”

At the same press conference, medical doctor and independent healthcare advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon warned that it would be the first responders, fisherfolk, coastal communities, and those who consume seafood caught from the spill affected area who could experience an array of health problems such as increased cancer risk, memory loss, heart, liver and lung problems, and skin injuries among others.

“It has massive economic, sociological, cultural, physical, and psychological effects. And I cannot underestimate the impact of this. What we need aside from leadership is a sense of urgency,” Leachon said.

With tracing of seafood caught from waters contaminated by the oil spill urgently needed, Ramos said that it is imperative for the Philippine government to pursue the full implementation of vessel monitoring for all commercial fishing vessels as stipulated in the Fisheries Code, as amended, and the FAO 266.

“VMM would definitely help the government identify fish catch for safety tests, and this would have been in place already had the government pursued the completion of VMM installation on all commercial fishing vessels, as mandated by the law. Moreover, the Philippines has already rebounded from the yellow card warning handed down by the European Union for unchecked illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in our waters. But it seems that we have not yet learned our lesson,” said the Oceana VP.

“With the alarming standstill in the implementation of vessel monitoring, we risk being slapped from our biggest buyer of fish and seafood products, the European Union (EC), with a second yellow card warning which if followed by a red card put in peril the livelihood of so many Filipinos. In the absence of VMM and ERS, Karagatan Patrol strives to provide information on apparent illegal commercial fishing in municipal waters which, by law are reserved for the preferential use of artisanal fisherfolk. But the government must step up in the face of emerging challenges and fulfil its primordial duties of sustainably managing our fisheries and the present and future generations,” Ramos urged.


Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources. (END)

For More Information:

Joyce Sierra, Communications Manager, Oceana

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